moonlighting

Can a side gig help your career?

May 17, 2012: 10:14 AM ET

Certain kinds of moonlighting may actually help you in your main job, and wise organizations can embrace, rather than squelch, entrepreneurial zeal.

By Laura Vanderkam

FORTUNE -- Moonlighting has always been part of American work culture, though it's not a lifestyle many managers have encouraged. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 5% of workers officially hold more than one job. Some organizations have policies against extra hours work, both for liability and productivity reasons. There are 168 hours in a week, and time you're spending at a second job or on your own side business is time you're not dreaming up new ideas for your employer.

But changes in technology and the way people work are leading some to rethink this idea. Certain kinds of moonlighting may actually help you in your main job, and wise organizations can embrace, rather than squelch, entrepreneurial zeal.

The key insight is that while the term "second job" conjures up an image of commuting to a second site after a long day at the first, these days "I don't have to move my atoms around," says Paul Kedrosky, a venture capitalist and senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation. Platforms like Etsy (where people sell crafts), eBay (EBAY), Zazzle (where people hawk designs) or Quirky (a crowd-testing site for manufactured products) allow people to do creative work from their home computers.

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Bloggers can make money from ads and people with special expertise can teach virtual courses. There's no real difference from an employer's perspective between someone sitting in front of a computer until 2 a.m. and a television until 2 a.m. -- which managers have never been able to ban. These side businesses, which Kedrosky calls "fractional entrepreneurship," should be of "no more concern than having hobbies." Indeed, modern moonlighting often involves things that might once have been hobbies. More

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